By Cliff Rold
Being boxing’s biggest moneymaker is an enviable position. Everyone within a division or three wants to fight you and will generally meet your terms. The boxing fans that loathe you are as willing, maybe more willing, as those who love you to pay big dollars for your services.
It was like that for Sugar Ray Leonard.
It was like that for Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather.
It’s like that right now for Saul Alvarez. The middleweight champion of the world has the sport so much by the short hairs the WBC is creating new designations to keep him happy. The way the biggest stars are fawned over might not always be best for boxing as sport, but in boxing each major event is almost its own competitive season.
It’s when harvest comes due and the best checks are signed.
The next Alvarez harvest will land in September and speculation is rampant on his next opponent. The options mentioned in recent days span from 154 to 175 lbs. Who do fans want to see? What is the upside, and downside, for each?
Let’s dig in to some of the prominent names raised in the days and weeks since Alvarez’s fight with Daniel Jacobs in May, going in the order of opponent’s primary weight class.
Pros: The 22-year old WBO Jr. middleweight titlist Munguia (33-0, 26 KO) couldn’t make a bad fight if he wanted to. He’s one of those fighters whose defensive liabilities, youth, and power just make him interesting viewing. Munguia was turned down as a Golovkin opponent by HBO a couple years ago but that was before he won a belt. An all-Mexican showdown with Alvarez wouldn’t be a hard sell as regards action.
Cons: The problem with this match is convincing anyone Munguia has a realistic shot at winning. Munguia had his hands full with Takeshi Inoue and Dennis Hogan in his last two fights. Neither is Alvarez. For those who prefer a fight where they don’t feel like they already know who will win, this fight might not be their cup of tea.
Pros: For the fans that loudly advocated for the former unified middleweight titlist Golovkin (39-1-1, 35 KO) to get a big money shot for years, the outcome of two battles with Alvarez didn’t satisfy. Both decisions sparked debate afterwards, though the first leaned closer to controversy in part because of Adelaide Byrd’s atrocious score. The Alvarez-Golovkin rivalry stands at 1-0-1 in favor of Alvarez but neither man can genuinely say they have proven their superiority. A third fight might conclude the series, or it could set the stage for a rare fourth fight finale. In terms of box office, the first two fights both exceeded one million buys. No other fight is likely to drive subscribers to the DAZN platform like this one.
Cons: We’ve seen it twice already and, while both were good fights, was either really a classic? There is nothing wrong with being just a damn good fight but maybe another fight or two for both men might help to freshen the match again a little. Golovkin, 37, isn’t getting any younger; he needs the fight sooner but there are other dangerous foes each man could face to freshen the middleweight division. Several of the men on this list have come up as options for Golovkin as well and carry some of the same pros and cons for him.
Pros: ESPN’s Dan Rafael reported Wednesday of telephone conversations gauging the possibility of a clash with the 31-year old WBO middleweight titlist. Andrade (28-0, 17 KO) successfully, and easily, defended his belt last Saturday against Maciej Sulecki and made his case for this ‘undisputed’ clash. Andrade was highly regarded out of the Olympics in 2008 but hasn’t yet had the sort of fights that give him a chance to vault past the crowd. A chance to win the WBA and IBF belts (the new ‘franchise’ tag the WBC put on Alvarez doesn’t automatically put their belt at stake) would be nice but that’s not the real prize. Alvarez is the cash cow outside the ring and inside he is the true, reigning middleweight king. Andrade is a style nightmare and Alvarez-Andrade isn’t a gimme’ for the champ. If one wants fresh, competitive matches, this fits the bill on paper.
Cons: Andrade may be more interesting as a theoretical threat than as one we see in the ring. Past an electric opening round, Andrade’s win over Sulecki wasn’t aesthetically appealing to all. Alvarez deserves credit for facing a range of styles over the years. Taking the Floyd Mayweather fight, regardless of outcome (and Alvarez lost bad), was a no-brainer but Alvarez also tackled Erislandy Lara when many were loudly declaring he wouldn’t. Alvarez didn’t look good there though, even in narrow win. Andrade has a style few look good against. For fans whose first choice isn’t a fight that could play out as a dud no matter who wins, Andrade is a less attractive option.
Pros: The 36-year old WBO and once-unified light heavyweight titlist Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KO) was written off by many after a knockout loss to Eleider Alvarez last year. Combined with his stoppage loss to Andre Ward in their 2017 rematch, the book on Kovalev seemed to be that despite his expert jab and prodigious power, he had been solved. So what did Kovalev do? He went straight back to Alvarez and boxed his ears off for twelve rounds in one of his best performances. He proved he’s still one of the best active light heavyweights in the world, if not the best of the lot. He’s certainly the biggest and most accomplished name in the class and, oh, that’s right, it would be Alvarez jumping two weight classes to chase light heavyweight gold. Alvarez would give up height, reach, and be facing a big puncher who can also box with the best of them.
Cons: It’s hard to think of a lot of negative if this is the way Alvarez goes. It’s a risky fight both in terms of the fight itself and the miles he could pick up fighting a bigger man, even if Kovalev is past his peak. The big question here is would it happen straight up or does it come with something like a catchweight? Kovalev might be willing to squeeze down for the payday but Kovalev hasn’t ever come in even as low as 173 lbs. even in any fight. Weight shenanigans would detract from this one if the developed.
There are other names one could throw out. WBA and Ring Magazine super middleweight titlist Callum Smith (26-0, 19 KO) has been mentioned and both have fought on DAZN. It’s a really good match on paper but letting the audience get to know the British WBSS winner a little more would make it bigger. Smith is still just 29; there is time there.
The man who received the WBC ‘full’ middleweight strap when Alvarez was franchised, 29-year old Jermall Charlo (29-0, 21 KO), would draw massively if they fought in Texas. It’s not a fight anyone seems to be talking seriously about right now but, as was the case with Austin Trout, Lara, and Golovkin, one should never assume Alvarez won’t get around to everyone who earns it. It’s just highly unlikely to be something to think about for September.
It’s the other thing that makes being boxing’s biggest star enviable. The star is never short of options, not just for the next date but for dates stretching out as long as they maintain their perch.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]